Public Safety Policing, Chicago
July 20th, 2023 2 Minute Read Press Release

New Issue Brief: Is the Chicago PD’s Consent Decree Working?

Across a variety of measures, the Chicago consent decree seems to have had little effect on the CPD’s behavior

NEW YORK, NY — The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is among the nation’s most controversial police departments, and activists have long clamored for reform. These tensions came to a head with the killing of Laquan McDonald by a CPD officer, events which eventually triggered citywide protests and claims by the Department of Justice that CPD had engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional policing. In 2019, after much wrangling, the city entered a federally enforced consent decree, which mandated sweeping reforms and subjected the police department to the supervision of a court-appointed independent monitor. 

In a new issue brief, Manhattan Institute fellow Charles Fain Lehman considers the success of the Chicago consent decree as a test case for the consent decree model more broadly. The goal of the consent decree was to address CPD’s pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing—in particular, its unconstitutional use of force. Lehman finds across a variety of measures, from the number of police killings to complaints against officers, that the Chicago consent decree seems to have had little effect on CPD’s behavior, or public perception thereof.  

While the consent decree process is not yet finished—the city has until 2027 to reach compliance—Lehman concludes that prior research and Chicago’s lack of progress thus far suggest that efforts to reform police departments using consent decrees are a gamble. For Chicago in particular it has proven to be an ineffective means to secure reform. Nevertheless, since retaking the White House in 2020, President Joe Biden has restored the Obama-era embrace of pattern-or-practice investigations that places consent decrees at the heart of the reform agenda, including a recent, high-profile investigation into the Minneapolis PD. So the question remains for future cases: is the uncertain outcome worth the time and cost? 

Click here to view the full issue brief.


Are you interested in supporting the Manhattan Institute’s public-interest research and journalism? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and its scholars’ work are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).